by Zacki Jabbar
Former Prime Minister and UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, stressing he has “no deals with anybody” said he is confident of forming a UNP government following the upcoming parliamentary election “This election will prove to be one of the most vital in the country’s recent past,” he declared.
Amidst a hectic polls campaign, the UNP leader spoke to The Sunday Island , outlining his future plans and vision for the country.
Q – The UNP has promised a monthly Rs.10,000 for the recently unemployed due to the Coronavirus Pandemic and a further monthly Rs. 10,000 for families affected by a future lockdown. How many beneficiaries are you looking at and how soon would you implement the project, if elected to power?
A – Families will have to be helped if there is a future lockdown. We have presented our proposals and will negotiate with the IMF and others to get USD 6 billion. I think we can do the initial work within six months. In any case USD 850 million is due as a share of our quota.
Once we start, long term bankable bonds of 25 to 50 years can be issued. This is what the UK and USA did during World War two. But its important that we restructure the economy and attract investments so that the loans can be repaid within 50 years.
In parallel, we can start identifying those who have been displaced due to the Coronavirus. There will many applicants, but the minimum we can do is to look after the people who are out of employment now.
Q – How many beneficiaries are your looking at?
A – About a million. But we can go beyond that, if there is a mass exodus from the Middle East.
Q – Do you think the government would sign the MCC agreement with the USA after the election?
A – The agreement has been finalized. The government should without dilly-dallying any further, tell the people before the polls as to what the exact position is. It should also clarify if it was trying to mortgage Surakumpath worth USD 4,500 million with the U.S government and get a loan of USD 1000 million against it.
Q – What is the reason for the breakdown in relations with Japan?
A – The government owes an explanation on this as well. JICA has suspended assistance. Relations with Japan are strained. Wrong actions of the government have resulted in one of our oldest financial lenders losing confidence in Sri Lanka. We will revive this relationship through our strong and pro-active foreign policies.
Q – How do you think the UNP will perform at the general election ?
A – We are the largest party. It all depends on how many come to vote. No party is sure about that. If there is no fear of the Coronavirus, more people will go to the polling booths. We hope more people vote. The higher the percentage, the better for the UNP. The people who voted for Gotabaya are now fed up due to the problems they are facing on all fronts.
Q – Is there a possibility of the UNP and its breakaway faction linking up after the election ?
A – UNP is UNP. We have decided to go on our own. We have to re-establish the UNP brand. So we will go as the UNP. The Sri Lankan identity is associated with the UNP. We are the major party, the others came later.
Q – How do you view President Gotabaya Rajapaksa trying to run the country with Special Task Forces packed with former military officers?
A – Its not good for the country. There is no need for such extreme measures when there is a Cabinet of Ministers and a Parliament.
Q – The SJB says it would take over your party headquarters – Srikotha after August 5 ?
A – If anyone tries to use force they would be reported to the Welikada Police. What would become of the country, if everyone resorted to violence to acquire what did not belong to them.
Q – The UNP promised to abolish the Executive Presidency and Proportional Representation System. But your 2015 government didn’t do it?
A – Now it can be done only after the term of the current President, but the PR system can be scrapped if all parties agree.
Q – Who do you think was responsible for the recent demolition of the Assembly Hall of King Buvanekabahu ll in Kurunegala?
A – The problem is that there is a huge attempt to save the culprits. It has become a joke. It is those who shouted the loudest about preserving historical sites who are now unable to ensure law and order. The complaint states that the Mayor had approved of the RDA bulldozing the Assembly Hall. The police has to find out the truth. There are many questions that need to be answered . Did the Mayor inform the Archaeology Department and did it grant approval. But there should be no room to scuttle the investigations.
Q – Can you predict the result of the General Election ?
A – We are confident of forming the next government.
Q – With the support of other parties ?
A – I have not struck deals with any party or individual. We want to strengthen the UNP. We will form the next government.
Q – If the UNP wins, it will have to work with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa ?
A – No, he will have to work with us. Under the current Constitution the Cabinet of Ministers and Parliament have more powers than the President. He will have to consult us.
Outlining his economic revival plan, Wickremesinghe said that a UNP-led government would set out the basis to build a competitive platform similar to the Japanese model.
“We will strengthen competitive enterprises and promote new age industries and services. This will create the necessary foundation for us to develop a strong economy that could repay the loans. We will immediately provide relief to the people by improving their financial situation, safeguard jobs and income. The UNP has track record of raising the required finances through developing international relations.”
He said : the UNP will work towards strengthening the 19th Amendment to the Constitution and the various Independent Commissions that have empowered the public service including the judiciary and police and placed shackles on political interference. The recent practice of delegating functions of the Police to the military should stop forthwith and the military given its rightful role.
Economic mismanagement by the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government was the main cause for the suffering people were undergoing and not the Coronavirus pandemic. Leading figures in the government were pulling in different directions in an effort to cover the economic mess created in a short period of just eight months and have tried to avoid dealing with this crisis by hiding behind the COVID-19 pandemic.
The people were facing many problems in their homes due to the economic downturn. With the onset of the financial crisis there is a shortage of jobs and many had reduced or no income at all. Daily wage earners and even businessmen and women higher up in the economic scale are feeling the pressures exerted by the financial collapse.
The people are facing reduced or an absence of any income. From the daily wage earners to the large businessmen and women, the pressures exerted by the financial collapse is being felt. It is important that we recognize that the cause for this economic collapse cannot be attributed entirely to the health issues in the country. It has been the short-sighted economic management by the government that has resulted in this precipitating state of the economy.
It is the home economy that forms the foundation of our day to day lives. The price increases that we have witnessed at every level of consumer goods, starting from the basic needs to the luxury appliances, has clearly demonstrated that the home economic situation is no longer manageable. People around the country are facing difficulties in providing three square meals a day for their families.
Businesses are unable meet the necessary monthly salary payments for their employees. The government chose to slash the allowances of the State Sector Employees who were then deprived of the festival advances that have been previously provided to them yearly. Allowances of private sector employees have been reduced and most businesses are finding it difficult to meet the salary bills.
The Industrial sector is grinding to a halt. The recently imposed import restrictions have taken many businesses to the verge of collapse. The self-employment sector is in danger. The incomes of those who are engaged in agriculture as well as other sectors of our economy are also declining. Many of the key export markets have been lost. The country’s foreign revenue sources are disappearing fast and the economy is facing a grave danger of falling down an abyss. The retrogressive aspect of this crisis is the unbearable increase in the cost of living that has resulted in a large number of families in the country facing financial difficulties. The country as a whole is recording a decline in the per capita GDP. It has been predicted that over one million will be jobless by 2021.
The level of unemployment is expected to sky-rocket with a drop in Middle East employment. Sri Lanka’s foreign reserves are also depleting. Printing Rs. 450 billion is no solution to the crisis. We are falling from the frying pan to the fire. We must overcome this crisis and disentangle ourselves from the existing chaos created by this government. There are no short solutions to the problems that we face.
The UNP has on numerous occasions highlighted the importance of implementing a long term comprehensive economic programme that will cover all aspects of the economy. This is the only approach that can overcome this crisis. We have called upon the government to announce such a programme, but it is unable to formulate a strategy, because it lacks a viable economic vision. The government has already demonstrated in this short period that it lacks the capability to face the external economic challenges and build a strong national economy.
As a nation we are now faced with the gravest economic crisis since independence and it is only the UNP that has the vision, the plan and the capability to address the present crisis. We have a proven track-record time and again undoing economic mismanagement and reviving our economy. In 1977, 2001, 2015 and again in 2019 after the Easter Sunday attacks, it was the UNP that led the country’s economic recovery.
About Rs 3 bn paid as OT during past few months
Overtime gravy train for CPC refinery workers:
By Saman Indrajith
About Rs. 3,000 million had been paid as overtime for the employees of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation oil refinery, during the past few months, Parliament was told yesterday.
Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera said that he had asked for a detailed report as to whom and on what grounds the overtime payments had been made and it would be submitted to Parliament.
Fielding a question asked by Chief Opposition Whip, Kandy District SJB MP Lakshman Kiriella, Minister Wijesekera said instructions had been issued to regulate overtime.
MP Kiriella demanded to know why overtime had been paid to employees of an institution that had been shut down. “There are reports that over Rs 4,000 million has been paid as overtime to the workers of the refinery that was not functioning owing to the non-availability of crude oil. This is a crime,” Kiriella said.
Minister Wijesekera: “I made inquiries after I saw newspaper reports on payment of overtime to refinery workers. I inquired from the Finance Manager of the CPC. I was told that a sum between Rs 2.5 billion to Rs 3 billion had been paid as overtime. The refinery was not closed during the months of March and April. It was closed only during the last month. They had issued refined fuel on all seven days of the week continuously. When an institution operates full time in such a manner the employees would have to be paid for their overtime work. However, I admit that could have been done with some level of management in the payment process,” the Minister said.
Wigneswaran claims RW accepted all his demands
Head of the Thamil Makkal Thesiya Kuttani (TMTK), C. V. Wigneswaran told the media recently that President Ranil Wickremesinghe had agreed to all demands he had made, including the release of Tamil ‘political prisoners’, to secure his vote during last month’s Parliament election, to elect a President.
He made this statement following a meeting with the President in Colombo to discuss the establishment of an all-party government.
“We have made several requests and if the President is ready to comply with them, we will consider taking part in the all party government,” he said.
“We met him when he was Prime Minister. Before the parliamentary vote to elect the President, I made these demands and he agreed to them. That is why I voted for him. Now, it is for him to keep his promises. I am here to remind him of this,” Wigenswaran said.
Wickremesinghe, as the Prime Minister in the yahapalana government, vehemently denied that there were Tamil ‘political prisoners’ in the country. (RK)
MPs are not immune from country’s laws – SJB
By Saman Indrajith
Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa told Parliament yesterday that the MPs were not immune from the Penal Code despite the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Act.
Premadasa said Cabinet Spokesman Minister Bandula Gunawardane had claimed that incidents in Parliament could not be dealt with under the regular law.
“This claim sends the wrong message to people. Aren’t the provisions of the Penal Code or the Offences against Public Property Act applicable to the MPs? There were incidents in this Chamber during the 52-day coup conspiracy; some MPs damaged public property. There were investigations by the CID and also by Parliament.
The Secretary General announced the cost of the damage. When the process was on to prosecute those MPs responsible for the damage, political influence was exerted on the CID not to file cases against the culprits. It is against this background that Minister Gunawardane, in his position as the Cabinet spokesman, makes this false claim. His statement is sending a message saying that there is one law inside the Parliament and another outside it.
“He also claims that the Speaker decides whether these laws are applicable to Parliament or not,” Premadasa said.
Colombo District SJB MP Mujibur Rahuman said that people were already against the MPs and this new wrong message would further exacerbate their anger against elected members. “The Cabinet Spokesman says that the MPs have a different set of laws while the people are dealt with by the country’s laws. That is wrong. We are also liable for criminal offences that we commit,” Rahuman said.
“The CID conducted an investigation and was prepared to file cases, but that was prevented through political influence. The Cabinet Spokesman’s statement is fueling public hatred towards the MPs. Please, request the Cabinet Spokesman to refrain from making such statements,” he said.
Minister Gunawardane said that he was only responding to a question raised by a journalist and the question was about fairness of cracking down on protesters for destroying public property, during anti-government protests, when MPs, who damaged Parliament, property under the former government, are yet to be apprehended.
Minister Gunawardane said as a public representative in Parliament for the last 33 years he had only explained that the law would be implemented against those engaged in violent activities during peaceful protests.
“I said MPs had Parliament privileges and the Parliament law. I also explained that MPs attending Parliament cannot be arrested as they are engaged in legislative activities,” he said.
Chief Opposition Whip, Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella, said that the MPs had no such legal immunity. and Parliament privileges only cover MPs from being arrested while they are on their way to attend and when they leave Parliament. “Therefore, there is no law that says they are exempt from other laws of the country,” Kiriella said.
Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, agreeing with Chief Opposition Whip Kiriella, said that all other laws in the country applied to the MPs.
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